Doctors order fewer preventive services for Medicaid patients – study finds

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Blue doctorMichelle Andrews
KHN

Gynecologists ordered fewer preventive services for women who were insured by Medicaid than for those with private coverage, a recent study found.

The study by researchers at the Urban Institute examined how office-based primary care practices provided five recommended preventive services over a five-year period.

The services were clinical breast exams, pelvic exams, mammograms, Pap tests and depression screening.

The study used data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a federal health database of services provided by physicians in office-based settings.

It looked at 12,444 visits to primary care practitioners by privately insured women and 1,519 visits by women who were covered by Medicaid between 2006 and 2010.

That difference reflects the fact that the share of women who are privately insured is seven times larger than those on Medicaid, the researchers said. Pregnancy-related visits and visits to clinics were excluded from the analysis.

Overall, 26 percent of the visits by women with Medicaid included at least one of the five services, compared with 31 percent of the visits by privately insured women. Continue reading

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Use only approved prescription ear drops, FDA warns

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ucm453229FDA consumer update

For years health care providers and pharmacies have sold ear drops that contain ingredients like benzocaine and hydrocortisone that have not been evaluated for safety and effectiveness by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Now the FDA notifying companies to stop marketing 16 unapproved prescription drugs labeled to relieve ear pain and swelling.

FDA wants to make sure that the next time your child has ear pain requiring a prescription drug, the product has been approved by FDA as safe and effective.

“If we don’t know whether these drugs have any benefits, we should not accept any possible risk of side effects,” says FDA’s Charles E. Lee, M.D. Continue reading

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Measles led to death of Clallam Co. woman; first in US in a dozen years

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From Washington State Department of Health

Tragic outcome for immunocompromised patient shows need for community protection

Measles Virus

The death of a Clallam County woman this spring was due to an undetected measles infection that was discovered at autopsy.

The woman was most likely exposed to measles at a local medical facility during a recent outbreak in Clallam County.

She was there at the same time as a person who later developed a rash and was contagious for measles.

The woman had several other health conditions and was on medications that contributed to a suppressed immune system.

The last confirmed measles death in the United States was reported in 2003.

She didn’t have some of the common symptoms of measles such as a rash, so the infection wasn’t discovered until after her death. The cause of death was pneumonia due to measles.

This tragic situation illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles. Continue reading

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Use extreme caution this Fourth of July

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FireworksFrom the Office of the Insurance Commissioner 

This year’s Fourth of July festivities in Washington are complicated by the statewide drought we are experiencing.

As a result, many local and state government officials are asking Washington citizens to forego fireworks, even where they are legal.

Many municipalities in Washington have banned the use of fireworks.

Continue reading

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After court victory, Obama asks GOP to work with him to improve health care

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Obama July 10_2By Mary Agnes Carey
KHN

President Barack Obama called on Republicans Wednesday to find a bipartisan way to fix problems in the nation’s health care system rather than continue to fight over the health law.

“Part of what I’m hoping is with the Supreme Court case now behind us what we can do is … focus on how we can make it even better because it’s not as if we’ve solved all the problems in our health care system,” Obama said in remarks at an elementary school in Nashville, Tenn. “America still spends more on health care than any other advanced nation and our outcomes aren’t particularly better.”

Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday found 43 percent supporting the law and 40 percent in opposition, much as it has been for the past several months.

In a 6-3 ruling, the high court last week rejected a challenge that would have ended federal premium subsidies in at least 34 states for individuals and families buying insurance through the federal government’s online marketplace.

Such a result would have made coverage unaffordable for millions and created price spirals for those who kept their policies, many experts predicted.

While the president’s law survived its second Supreme Court test in three years, the decision by no means has ended the legal and political assaults from opponents.

Several GOP presidential hopefuls and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, among others, have continued to call for the law’s repeal. Continue reading

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Waterborne diseases pose a risk during swimming and other outdoor fun

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From the Washington State Department of Health

infant-swimmingSwimming pools, beaches, lakes, and streams provide an opportunity to cool off during a summer that’s warmer than usual.

Yet germs in the water can make people sick, especially young children, elderly people, and people with weak immune systems.

Chlorine in swimming pools kills most germs, but some types of germs can resist chlorine for many days.

Germs that can cause waterborne illness include Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, E. coli, and norovirus. In the past three years, three outbreaks of waterborne illness have been reported to state health officials – two in lakes and one in a swimming pool.

“It’s important to do all we can to protect ourselves and others from waterborne diseases when we take a dip into local pools, lakes, and rivers,” said State Epidemiologist for Communicable Disease Dr. Scott Lindquist. “Stay out of the water if you’re ill or have recently had diarrhea.” Continue reading

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Religious freedom, states’ interest clash over autopsies

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Minnesota_population_map_croppedBy Jake Grovum
Stateline

When Tadd Johnson got a call in February that a Native American tribal elder in northern Minnesota had died and authorities were preparing to do an autopsy over his family’s objections, the message was simple.

“They’re going to do an autopsy on Mushkooub, and you need to stop it,” said Johnson, an attorney and chairman of the American Indian studies department at the University of Minnesota’s Duluth campus, a reference to deceased elder Mushkooub Aubid.

It had been years since Johnson, who also is a Native American, had practiced law. But he soon found himself poring over the state’s medical examiner guidelines and religious freedom statutes.

He got in touch with Aubid’s family members, who were trailing the medical examiner’s car on its way to Duluth. That’s where the autopsy would be performed within a few hours unless they could stop it. Continue reading

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Your colonoscopy is covered — but surprise! The prep kit may not

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Question Q&ABy Michelle Andrews
KHN

With summer vacations coming up, one reader this week asked about travel insurance, while others had questions about coverage of preventive services, including costs related to colonoscopies.

Q. We know now that anesthesia for a screening colonoscopy is covered with no cost sharing  as a preventive service under the health law. As a plan administrator, I am also struggling to find guidance on how to handle bowel prep kits for colonoscopies. Can you help? Continue reading

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California’s tough new law overcomes distrust of vaccines

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Boy gets shot vaccine injectionBy April Dembosky, KQED

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed into law a requirement that nearly all children be vaccinated in order to attend school.

With the stroke of a pen, California went from being a state with relatively lax vaccination rules to one of the most strict in the country — joining Mississippi and West Virginia as states where even exemptions for religious beliefs are not allowed.

As the bill worked its way through the legislative process, it faced strong, consistent, vocal opposition from some parents, including a small group of protesters who stood vigil outside the Capitol in Sacramento for days before it was clear Brown would sign the bill.

The protesters are passionate, inflamed mainly by discredited beliefs that vaccines are linked to autism. But opposition to vaccines is far from new. Continue reading

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Washington state lawmakers kill Life Sciences Discovery Fund – Puget Sound Business Journal

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Gloved hand of a laboratory worker pulls a test tube from a rackA key source of funding for young life sciences and biotech companies in Washington state will soon disappear.

State lawmakers Monday approved a budget that revokes all funding from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

That fund provided grants for research and development for early-stage companies, nonprofits and research institutions.

That means the a total of $62 million will be transferred from the LSDF’s budget to the state’s general fund.

Source: Washington state lawmakers kill Life Sciences Discovery Fund – Puget Sound Business Journal

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Health care wait times vary greatly across the US

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Sign for an emergency room.Whether you get in to see a doctor on the same day you call for an appointment or have to wait months depends in large part on where you live, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine.

“Everyone would like to hear the words, ‘How can we help you today?’ when reaching out for health care assistance,” said Gary Kaplan, chair of the study committee that wrote the report, and chairman and chief executive officer of Virginia Mason Health System in Washington state Care with this commitment is feasible and found in practice today, but it is not common. Our report lays out a road map to improve that.” Continue reading

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Same-sex marriage ruling expect to boost coverage among gay couples

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U.S. Supreme CourtBy Jay Hancock
KHN

The right to marry in any state won’t be the only gain for gay couples from last week’s Supreme Court ruling.

The decision will probably boost health insurance among gay couples as same-sex spouses get access to employer plans, say analysts and benefits consultants.

How much is unclear, but “it’s going to increase coverage” in a community that has often had trouble getting access to medical services, said Jennifer Kates, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The logic is simple. Fewer than half of employers that offer health benefits make the insurance available to same-sex partners who aren’t married. Virtually all of them offer coverage to spouses.

By marrying partners with employer health plans, people in same-sex relationships are likely to get coverage in states that banned gay marriage until now.

By marrying partners with employer health plans, people in same-sex relationships are likely to get coverage in states that banned gay marriage until now, as well as in those that welcomed it. Thanks to rapidly shifting legal ground, 37 states recognized gay marriage before last week’s ruling, up from nine in 2012.

New York legalized gay marriage in 2011. The next year, there was a big increase in same-sex couples covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, according to a study published Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Cancer quackery fuels concern among doctors, FDA

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Photo Credit:  Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Be wary of possible side effects, drug interactions when using alternative health supplements, physicians caution

By By Bill Briggs
Fred Hutch News Service

One potentially fake cancer drug sold online can actually cause malignancies. One enema machine, purported to treat ovarian cancer under the FDA banner, was never cleared for sale in the U.S., federal health officials assert.

Those products and more were targeted last week in a global crackdown on more than 1,000 websites that sell possibly dangerous and bogus medicines and medical devices. The bust, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Interpol, coincides with the surge of unproven cancer “cures” hawked by Internet sellers, the FDA warns.

For curious consumers, the FDA posts a running list of “fake cancer cures” that currently spans 187 oils, drinks, plants and animals parts sold by web merchants from North Carolina to Oregon.

Cancer-treatment fraud is “particularly heartless,” FDA officials say, because it preys on the desperation of patients who are tempted “to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.” At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, some doctors are equally leery when patients ask to add claimed “natural” remedies to their treatment regimens.

“We’re quite clear: No over-the-counter herbal treatments – the things people get that are supposed to help their immune system, [or] whatever scams that people come across,” said Dr. George Georges, a hematopoietic cell transplant doctor at Fred Hutch. Continue reading

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